Title: Starship Troopers.
Author: Robert A. Heinlein.
Genre: Fiction, literature, science fiction, war lit, space operas, futuristic fiction.
Publication Date: December, 1959.
Summary: A military science fiction. In a futuristic world where only those who have fought or served their country (or planet) are allowed to vote, a recruit goes through the toughest boot camp in the Universe and into battle with the Terran Mobile Infantry against mankind's most frightening enemy.
My rating: 8.5/10
My Review: This book astounded me. I am not a very avid science fiction fan (especially space science fiction), nor a fan of military fiction of any kind, but this book Though this book has a main character, it's not about him. It's about a concept. A concept so controversial, but so eloquently and reasonably argued, that it's tough to take a logical stance against it. Tough to argue, though it definitely activates the knee-jerk feeling that it should be argued against. Heinlein points to many flaws in our society (for in the story, taking place far in the future, our time and our ways are far in the primitive fast), and turns them around on themselves to show what dire consequences humanity can experience long-term when over-sensitivity and over-political correctness becomes the leading concern of legislature (something that is even more prevalent today than back in the 50s when this novel was written) - their citizens glorified their mythology of ‘rights’... and lost track of their duties. No nation, so constituted, can endure.
♥ I’ve heard tell that there used to be military outfits whose chaplains did not fight alongside the others, but I’ve never been able to see how that could work. I mean, how can a chaplain bless anything he’s not willing to do himself?
♥ “Well… you see, sir? If we can use an H-bomb - and, as you said, it’s no checker game; it’s real, it’s war and nobody is fooling around - isn’t it sort of ridiculous to go crawling around in the weeds, throwing knives and maybe getting yourself killed… and even losing the war… when you’ve got a real weapon you can use to win? What’s the point in a whole lot of men risking their lives with obsolete weapons when one professor type can do so much more just by pushing a button?”
“..If you wanted to teach a baby a lesson, would you cut its head off?”
“Why… no, sir!”
“Of course not. You’d paddle it. There can be circumstances when it’s just as foolish to hit an enemy city with an H-bomb as it would be to spank a baby with an ax. War is not violence and killing, pure and simple; war is controlled violence, for a purpose. The purpose of war is to support your government’s decisions by force. The purpose is never to kill the enemy just to be killing him… but to make him do what you want him to do. Not killing… but controlled and purposeful violence. But it’s not your business or mine to decide the purpose of the control. It’s never a soldier’s business to decide when or where or how - or why - he fights; that belongs to the statesmen and the generals. The statesmen decide why and how much; the generals take it from there and tell us where and when and how. We supply the violence; other people - ‘older and wiser heads,’ as they say - supply the control. Which is as it should be. That’s the best answer I can give you.”
♥ Basic truths cannot change and once a man of insight expresses one of them it is never necessary, no matter how much the world changes, to reformulate them.
♥ “If you can’t listen, perhaps you can tell the class whether ‘value’ is a relative, or an absolute?”
I had been listening; I just didn’t see any reason not to listen with eyes closed and spine relaxed. But his question caught me out; I hadn’t read that day’s assignment. “An absolute,” I answered, guessing.
“Wrong,” he said coldly. “‘Value’ has no meaning other than in relation to living beings. The value of a thing is always relative to a particular person, is completely personal and different in quantity for each living human - ‘market value’ is a fiction, merely a rough guess at the average of personal values, all of which must be quantitatively different or trade would be impossible.” (I had wondered what Father would have said if he had heard “market value” called a “fiction” - snort in disgust, probably.)
“This very personal relationship, ‘value,’ has two factors for a human being: first, what he can do with a thing, its use to him… and second, what he must do to get it, its cost to him. There is an old song with asserts ‘the best things in life are free.’ Not true! Utterly false! This was the tragic fallacy which brought on the decadence and collapse of the democracies of the twentieth century; those noble experiments failed because the people had been led to believe that they could simply vote for whatever they wanted… and get it, without toil, without sweat, without tears.
“Nothing of value is free. Even the breath of life is purchased at birth only through gasping effort and pain.” He had been still looking at me and added, “If you boys and girls had to sweat for your toys the way a newly born baby has to struggle to live you would be happier… and much richer. As it is, with some of you, I pity the poverty of your wealth. You! I’ve just awarded you the prize for the hundred-meter dash. Does it make you happy?”
“Uh, I suppose it would.”
“No dodging, please. You have the prize - here, I’ll write it out: ‘Grand prize for the championship, one hundred-meter sprint.’” He had actually come back to my seat and pinned it on my chest. “There! Are you happy? You value it - or don’t you?”
I was sore. First that dirty crack about rich kids - a typical sneer of those who haven’t got it - and now this farce. I ripped it off and chucked it at him.
Mr. Dubois had looked surprised. “It doesn’t make you happy?”
“You know darn well I placed fourth!”
“Exactly! The prize for first place is worthless to you… because you haven’t earned it. But you enjoy a modest satisfaction in placing fourth; you earned it. I trust that some of the somnambulists here understood this little morality play. I fancy that the poet who wrote that song meant to imply that the best things in life must be purchased other than with money - which is true - just as the literal meaning of his words is false. The best things in life are beyond money; their price is agony and sweat and devotion… and the price demanded for the most precious of all things in life is life itself - ultimate cost for perfect value.”
♥ I have no sympathy for him and still haven’t. That old saw about “To understand all is to forgive all” is a lot of tripe. Some things, the more you understand the more you loathe them. My sympathy is reserved for Barbara Anne Enthwaite whom I had never seen, and for her parents, who would never again see their little girl.
♥ “..These children were often caught; police arrested batches each day. Were they scolded? Yes, often scathingly. Were their noses rubbed in it? Rarely. News organs and officials usually kept their names secret - in many places the law so required for criminals under eighteen. Were they spanked? Indeed not! Many had never been spanked even as small children; there was a widespread belief that spanking, or any punishment involving pain, did a child permanent psychic damage.”
(I had reflected that my father must never have heard of that theory.)
“Corporal punishment in schools was forbidden by law,” he had gone on. “Flogging was lawful as sentence of court only in one small province, Delaware, and there only for a few crimes and was rarely invoked; it was regarded as ‘cruel and unusual punishment.’” Dubois had mused aloud, “I do not understand objections to ‘cruel and unusual’ punishment. While a judge should be benevolent in purpose, his awards should cause the criminal to suffer, else there is no punishment - and pain is the basic mechanism built into us by millions of years of evolution which safeguards us by warning when something threatens our survival. Why should society refuse to use such a highly perfected survival mechanism? However, that period was loaded with pre-scientific pseudo-psychological nonsense.
“As for ‘unusual,’ punishment must be unusual or it serves no purpose.” He then pointed his stump at another boy. “What would happen if a puppy were spanked every hour?”
“Uh… probably drive him crazy!”
“Probably. It certainly will not teach him anything.”
♥ “I agree. Young lady, the tragic wrongness of what those well-meaning people did, contrasted with what they thought they were doing, goes very deep. They had no scientific theory of morals. They did have a theory of morals and they tried to live by it (I should not have sneered at their motives), but their theory was wrong - half of it fuzzy-headed wishful thinking, half of it rationalized charlatanry. The more earnest they were, the farther it led them astray. You see, they assumed that Man has a moral instinct.”
“Sir? I thought- But he does! I have.”
“No, my dear, you have a cultivated conscience, a most carefully trained one. Man has no moral instinct. He is not born with moral sense. You were not born with it, I was not - and a puppy has none. We acquire moral sense, when we do, through training, experience, and hard sweat of the mind. These unfortunate juvenile criminals were born with none, even as you and I, and they had no chance to acquire any; their experiences did not permit it. What is ‘moral sense’? It is an elaboration of the instinct to survive. The instinct to survive is human nature itself, and every aspect of our personalities derives from it. Anything that conflicts with the survival instinct acts sooner or later to eliminate the individual and thereby fails to show up in future generations. This truth is mathematically demonstrable, everywhere verifiable; it is the single eternal imperative controlling everything we do.
“But the instinct to survive,” he had gone on, “can be cultivated into motivations more subtle and much more complex than the blind, brute urge of the individual to stay alive. Young lady, what you miscalled your ‘moral instinct’ was the instilling in you by your elders if the truth that survival can have stronger imperatives than that of your own personal survival. Survival of your family, for example. Of your children, when you have them. Of your nation, if you struggle that high up the scale. And so on up. A scientifically verifiable theory of morals must be rooted in the individual’s instinct to survive - and nowhere else! - and must correctly describe the hierarchy of survival, note the motivations at each level, and resolve all conflicts.
“We have such a theory now; we can solve any moral problem, on any level. Self-interest, love of family, duty to country, responsibility toward the human race - we are even developing an exact ethic for extra-human relations. But all moral problems can be illustrated by one misquotation: ‘Greater love hath no man than a mother cat dying to defend her kittens.’ Once you understand the problem facing that cat and how she solved it, you will then be ready to examine yourself and learn how high up the moral ladder you are capable of climbing.
“These juvenile criminals hit a low level. Born with only the instinct for survival, the highest morality they achieved was a shaky loyalty to a peer group, a street gang. But the do-gooders attempted to ‘appeal to their better natures,’ to ‘reach them,’ to ‘spark their moral sense.’ Tosh! They had no ‘better natures’; experience taught them that what they were doing was the way to survive. The puppy never got his spanking; therefore what he did with pleasure and success must be ‘moral.’
“The basis of all morality is duty, a concept with the same relation to group that self-interest has to individual. Nobody preached duty to these kids in a way they could understand - that is, with a spanking. But the society they were in told them endlessly about their ‘rights.’
“The results should have been predictable, since a human being has no natural rights of any nature.”
Mr. Dubois had paused. Somebody took the bait. “Sir? How about ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’?”
“Ah, yes, the ‘unalienable rights.’ Each year someone quotes that magnificent poetry. Life? What ‘right’ to life has a man who must die if he is to save his children? If he chooses to save his own life, does he do so as a matter of ‘right’? If two men are starving and cannibalism is the only alternative to death, which man’s right is ‘unalienable’? And is it ‘right’? As to liberty, the heroes who signed the great document pledged themselves to buy liberty with their lives. Liberty is never unalienable; it must be redeemed regularly with the blood of patriots or it always vanishes. Of all the so-called natural human rights that have ever been invented, liberty is least likely to be cheap and is never free of cost.
“The third ‘right’? - the ‘pursuit of happiness’? It is indeed unalienable but it is not a right; it is simply a universal condition which tyrants cannot take away nor patriots restore. Cast me into a dungeon, burn me at the stake, crown me king of kings, I can ‘pursue happiness’ as long as my brain lives - but neither gods nor saints, wise men nor subtle drugs, can insure that I will catch it.”
Mr. Dubois then turned to me. “I told you that ‘juvenile delinquent’ is a contradiction in terms. ‘Delinquent’ means ‘failing in duty.’ But duty is an adult virtue - indeed a juvenile becomes an adult when, and only when, he acquires a knowledge of duty and embraces it as dearer than the self-love he was born with. There never was, there cannot be, a ‘juvenile delinquent.’ But for every juvenile criminal there are always one or more adult delinquents - people of mature years who either do not know their duty, or who, knowing it, fail.
“And that was the soft spot which destroyed what was in many ways an admirable culture. The junior hoodlums who roamed their streets were symptoms of a greater sickness; their citizens (all of them counted as such) glorified their mythology of ‘rights’... and lost track of their duties. No nation, so constituted, can endure.”
♥ I had no idea that “Mr.” Dubois was trying to teach me why to fight until long after I had decided to fight anyhow.
Well, why should I fight? Wasn’t it preposterous to expose my tender skin to the violence of unfriendly strangers? Especially as the pay at any rank was barely spending money, the hours terrible, and the working conditions worse? When I could be sitting at home which such matters were handled by thick-skulled characters who enjoyed such games? Particularly when the strangers against whom I fought never had done anything to me personally until I showed up and started kicking over their tea wagon - what sort of nonsense is this?
Fight because I’m an M.I.? Brother, you’re drooling like Dr. Pavlov’s dogs. Cut it out and start thinking.
♥ “Now here are we with still another system… and our system works quite well. Many complain but none rebel; personal freedom for all is greatest in history, laws are few, taxes are low, living standards are as high as productivity permits, crime is at its lowest ebb. Why? Not because our voters are smarter than other people; we’ve disposed of that argument. Mr. Tammany - can you tell us why our system works better than any used by our ancestors?”
I don’t know where Clyde Tammany got his name; I’d take him for a Hindu. He answered, “Uh, I’d venture to guess that it’s because the electors are a small group who know that the decisions are up to them… so they study the issues.”
“No guessing, please; this is exact science. And your guess is wrong. The ruling nobles of many another system were a small group fully aware of their grave power. Furthermore, our franchised citizens are not everywhere a small fraction; you know or should know that the percentage of citizens among adults ranges from over eighty per cent on Iskander to less than three per cent in some Terran nations - yet government is much the same everywhere. Nor are the voters picked men; they bring no special wisdom, talent, or training to their sovereign tasks. So what difference is there between our votes and wielders of franchise in the past? We have had enough guesses; I’ll state the obvious: Under our system every voter and officeholder is a man who has demonstrated through voluntary and difficult service that he places the welfare of the group ahead of personal advantage.
“And that is one practical difference.
“He may fail in wisdom, he may lapse in civic virtue. But his average performance is enormously better than that of any other class of rulers in history.”
Major Reid paused to touch the face of an old-fashioned watch, “reading” its hands. “The period is almost over and we have yet to determine the moral reason for our success in governing ourselves. Now continued success is never a matter of chance. Bear in mind that this is science, not wishful thinking; the universe it what it is, not what we want it to be. To vote is to wield authority; it is the supreme authority from which all other authority derives - such as mine to make your lives miserable once a day. Force, if you will! - the franchise is force, naked and raw, the Power of the Rods and the Ax. Whether it is exerted by ten men or by ten billion, political authority is force.
“But this universe consists of paired dualities. What is the converse of authority? Mr. Rico.”
He had picked one I could answer. “Responsibility, sir.”
“Applause. Both for practical reasons and for mathematically verifiable moral reasons, authority and responsibility must be equal - else a balancing takes place as surely as current flows between points of unequal potential. To permit irresponsible authority is to sow disaster; to hold a man responsible for anything he does not control is to behave with blind idiocy. The unlimited democracies were unstable because their citizens were not responsible for the fashion in which they exerted their sovereign authority… other than through the tragic logic of history. The unique ‘poll tax’ that we must pay was unheard of. No attempt was made to determine whether a voter was socially responsible to the extent of his literally unlimited authority. If he voted the impossible, the disastrous possible happened instead - and responsibility was then forced on him willy-nilly and destroyed both him and his foundationless temple.
“Superficially, our system is only slightly different; we have democracy unlimited by race, color, creed, birth, wealth, sex, or conviction, and anyone may win sovereign power by a usually short and not too arduous term of service - nothing more than a light workout to our cave-man ancestors. But that slight difference is one between a system that works, since it is constructed to match the facts, and one that is inherently unstable. Since sovereign franchise is the ultimate in human authority, we insure that all who wield it accept the ultimate in social responsibility - we require each person who wishes to exert control over the state to wager his own life - and lose it, if need be - to save the life of the state. The maximum responsibility a human can accept is thus equated to the ultimate authority a human can exert. Yin and yang, perfect and equal.”
♥ Do you know how fast population pressure could cause us to fill the entire universe shoulder to shoulder? The answer will astound you, just the flicker of an eye in terms of the age of our race.
Try it - it’s a compound-interest expansion.
But does Man have any “right” to spread through the universe?
Man is what he is, a wild animal with the will to survive, and (so far) the ability, against all competition. Unless one accepts that, anything one says about morals, war, politics - you name it - is nonsense. Correct morals arise from knowing what Man is - not what do-gooders and well-meaning old Aunt Nellies would like him to be.
The universe will let us know - later - whether or not Man has any “right” to expand through it.
♥ Besides the obvious fact that drop & retrieval require the best pilots (i.e., female), there is a very strong reason why female Naval officers are assigned to transports: It is good for trooper morale.
Let’s skip M.I. traditions for a moment. Can you think of anything sillier than letting yourself be fired out of a spaceship with nothing but mayhem and sudden death at the other end? However, if someone must do this idiotic stunt, do you know of a surer way to keep a man keyed up to the point where he is willing than by keeping him constantly reminded that the only good reason why men fight is a living, breathing reality?
In a mixed ship, the last thing a trooper hears before a drop (maybe the last word he ever hears) is a woman’s voice, wishing him luck. If you don’t think this is important, you’ve probably resigned from the human race.
♥ As may be, we wanted those prisoners back!
In the grim logic of the universe this may be a weakness. Perhaps some race that never bothers to rescue an individual may exploit this human trait to wipe us out. The Skinnies have such a trait only slightly and the Bugs don’t seem to have it at all - nobody ever saw a Bug come to the aid of another because he was wounded; they co-operate perfectly in fighting but units are abandoned the instant they are no longer useful.
Our behavior is different. How often have you seen a headline like this? - TWO DIE ATTEMPTING RESCUE OF DROWNING CHILD. If a man gets lost in the mountains, hundreds will search and often two or three searchers are killed. But the next time somebody gets lost just as many volunteers turn out.
Poor arithmetic… but very human. It runs through all our folklore, all human religious, all our literature - a racial conviction that when one human needs rescue, others should not count the price.
Weakness? It might be the unique strength that wins us a Galaxy.